Can protein powder cause hair loss?
Does protein powder cause hair loss? Protein powder DOES NOT cause hair loss. On the contrary, it might prevent hair loss.
You may have heard that protein powder causes hair loss. This is simply not true. Protein powder DOES NOT cause hair loss. There is absolutely no scientific evidence that your protein powder is causing your hair to fall out. On the contrary, there is abundant evidence that dietary protein is essential to hair growth and health.
Why do people believe that protein powder cases hair loss?
A highly cited 2017 study claims that whey protein isolate can accelerate hair thinning and male pattern baldness. This study was widely circulated on the Internet and referenced by many popular publications. As a result, many people came to believe that protein powder causes hair loss, which is unfortunate because the study in question is utterly biased.
Said study can be discredited without even scrutinizing the methods because the author had a blatant conflict of interest. Dr. Lawrence J. Shapiro, the author, is a hair transplant surgeon who sells a whey protein concentrate formulation called Dr. Shapiro’s Help Hair™ Shake. Dr. Shapiro claims that whey protein concentrate, the main ingredient in his protein supplement, is good for your hair whereas whey protein isolate, the main ingredient in many other protein supplements, is not. Although this could be true, Dr. Shapiro has personal and financial interests that could have (and probably did) bias his work. I have no doubt that he published his “research” to sell more of his own product.
Dr. Shapiro’s study is also the only one of its kind. This matters because one cannot claim conclusive findings solely on the basis of a single study. A study must be replicated – repeated many times over with the same results – before its findings can be considered conclusive. A study that has not been or cannot be replicated may have been faked.
The lesson to be learned here is that we, the customer, have to be skeptical of what we find on the Internet. Many published research findings are biased and false, and are often referenced by popular publications in ways that give them far more credibility than they deserve. This is almost certainly what happened to Dr. Shapiro’s study.
Protein might be good for your hair.
Most of what is known about protein intake and hair loss is based on studies about people with a nutrient deficiency. It is safe to say that a protein deficiency can impact hair structure and growth, and that protein supplementation can promote hair growth in individuals who are protein deficient. There is very little research about the effects of protein supplementation in individuals without a nutrient deficiency, however, and it is hard to say to what extent, if any, protein affects hair growth in the average person. Moreover, most of the published studies examine a variety of nutrients, making it unclear what role is played by protein.
That said, hair is made of a protein called keratin and hair follicles are among the most metabolically active cells in the body. Boosting your protein intake, especially if you are not getting enough protein, may therefore help with hair growth. A recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study examined the link between protein and hair growth, and concluded that protein supplementation promotes hair growth in women suffering from thinning hair. This is just one study, but it furthers the notion that eating more protein is worth a try if you are trying to grow your hair or slow thinning.
Before you add a protein powder to your diet, however, be sure to do your research. Any type of protein powder can help you boost your protein intake, but not all protein powders are good for you. Here are a few of the top ingredients to avoid when buying protein powder.
Avoid food additives.
Most protein powders are full of food additives. Although not necessarily bad for you in small quantities, additives can add up quickly (especially if you drink a protein shake every day) and cause gastrointestinal (GI) side effects like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas, and stomach pain. This is because food additives are, generally speaking, hard to digest. They sit in your gut for longer than food should, which gives your gut bacteria more time to eat. As they eat, these bacteria produce gas, which causes bloating and stomach pain. Gas also slows colonic transit (the amount of time it takes food to travel through the colon), which can lead to constipation.
In the long term, food additives can disrupt regulatory pathways in the intestine, which can result in the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and systemic inflammatory disorders. Artificial sweeteners are among the most harmful additives in the long term as they alter the composition of your gut microbiota (the collection of microorganisms that help you digest food). This can lead to serious, chronic GI problems and widespread inflammation. Some sweeteners, especially sugar alcohols like xylitol, are also poorly absorbed by the gut (meaning they feed those hungry gut bacteria) and cause diarrhea because they draw water into your intestine. Now you finally have something to blame for those post-protein shake trips to the bathroom!
Here is a list of the most common food additives in protein powder:
acacia gum, acesulfame potassium, artificial flavors, aspartame, carrageenan, cellulose gum, dextrin, dextrose, erythritol, gellan gum, guar gum, gum arabic, inulin, locust bean gum, “natural” flavors*, maltodextrin, rice syrup solids, soy lecithin, silica, sucralose, sunflower lecithin, xanthan gum, xylitol
When it comes to identifying food additives, go with your gut. 😉 As a rule of thumb, they are the ingredients that you cannot pronounce. Food additives are not the only thing to look out for when buying protein powder, however. There are several other ingredients that can upset your stomach.
egg whites, coconut, cocoa, monk fruit
Protein Matrix Comprised of (Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Isolate, Calcium Caseinate, Micellar Casein, Milk Protein Isolate, Egg Albumen, Glutamine Peptides), Polydextrose, Sunflower Creamer (Sunflower Oil, Corn Syrup Solids, Sodium Caseinate, Mono- and Diglycerides, Dipotassium Phosphate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Soy Lecithin, Tocopherols), Natural and Artificial Flavor, MCT Powder (Medium Chain Triglycerides, Nonfat Dry Milk, Disodium Phosphate, Silicon Dioxide), Lecithin, Cellulose Gum, Salt, Yellow 5, Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium, Papain, Bromelain.
*This is the actual ingredient list of one of the best-selling protein powders in the United States.
Dairy-based proteins like whey and casein, which are byproducts of cheese and yogurt production, are known to cause digestive issues, especially for people with lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Over one in three Americans are lactose intolerant, and the prevalence of IBS is somewhere between 10 and 15 percent in the United States. It follows that you may be lactose intolerant or have IBS and not even know it. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a poorly understood condition, and it is unclear why dairy triggers symptoms. Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, is clearly understood. People with lactose intolerance are unable to fully digest lactose, the sugar in dairy. As you just learned, partially digested food feeds the bacteria in your gut, which produce gas.
Avoid protein concentrates and isolates.
Finding an additive-free, dairy-free protein powder is hard. Finding an additive-free, dairy-free protein powder made with real foods is next to impossible. Why? Most protein powders are made with protein concentrates and isolates, foods stripped of everything but the protein. They are listed on the ingredient list as “pea protein,” for example, as opposed to “peas.” We will not go into the details, but protein concentrates and isolates undergo heavy mechanical and chemical processing before becoming protein powder. Sometimes, manufacturers use chemical solvents like hexane to isolate (separate) the protein from the food. This means that what you end up putting into your body looks nothing like real food. The potential problem here is that your gut might not know what to do with ingredients like these. Your gut prefers the real thing, not some heavily-processed imitation, so protein concentrates and isolates might be hard to digest for people with sensitive stomachs.
Instead of protein concentrates or isolates, we use egg whites and almonds. Egg whites are simply pasteurized and dried before becoming protein powder. Almonds are just roasted, pressed, and ground. Minimally-processed ingredients like these are easy to digest and a stomach and gut-friendly alternative to protein concentrates and isolates.
Unless you have a sensitivity or allergy to eggs, egg white protein is the best protein for people with sensitive stomachs. Egg whites are low in fiber, low-FODMAP, and have the highest protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) of any whole food. Our customers have experienced fewer digestive issues with egg white protein than with any other type of protein.
If you cannot eat eggs, try our almond protein powder. Unlike protein concentrates or isolates, almonds contain lots of healthy fats, fiber, and other nutrients like calcium and vitamin E. We prefer almonds to other minimally-processed plant protein sources because they are more gut-friendly. Research suggests that almonds can improve the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome. Research also suggests that almonds possess prebiotic properties, meaning they stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
“I just finished my first bag and ordered 2 more! I Iove this stuff! I have IBS and every protein powder hurts my stomach…except drink wholesome!”
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. drink wholesome is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.